Originally published at: Pluralistic: 16 Mar 2022 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
- The role of prose quality in scholarship: Better-edited papers fare better in peer-reviewed journals.
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The role of prose quality in scholarship (permalink)
The dominant language of science and scholarship is English, and yet native English speakers do not have a monopoly on scientific and scholarly insights. Some non-native English speakers believe this puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to acceptance in peer-reviewed journals and citations, and pay language editors to improve their prose.
But is it worth it? Does improving the quality of prose improve the perceived quality of scholarship, and with it, the likelihood of being accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals and citation in further papers? That's the subject of "Writing Matters," a new preprint paper.
The paper's authors are a Kiwi economist (Jan Feld) and two plain language specialists (Corinna Lines and Libby Ross) who run a consultancy in New Zealand. They devised an ingenious experiment to determine what benefit – if any – scholars derive from paying editors to clean up their prose.
They got a bunch of unedited economics papers written by PhD students, and had language specialists rate their prose quality, and also ran the text through a widely accepted empirical "grade level" estimator (Flesch-Kincaid). Then, the paper were edited by language specialists with no knowledge of economics (who would thus be unlikely to inadvertently improve the substantive claims in the papers).
Finally, both versions of the papers – original and edited for clarity – were judged by economists and writing experts who were divided into experimental and control groups, with one group getting the edited versions and the other getting the original. These judges weren't told that they were reading edited or raw papers, and they weren't told (until afterward) that they were participating in an experiment about the effect of prose on the perception of scholarly quality.
The results verified the commonsense conclusion: experts who reviewed the edited papers didn't just rate them as more readable – they also rated them as being better scholarship. They indicated that they would be more likely to accept the papers for conference talks and journal inclusion.
And – predictably – the papers that benefited the most were those that showed the largest improvement in their prose after being edited. That is, the worst-written papers got the largest credibility boost after they were edited.
The authors conclude that the quality of writing really matters to the careers of scholars and the impact of their scholarship, and note that English writing capability is easier for native English speakers to attain than is the case for non-native speakers. What's more, they conclude that paid language editors can erase this deficit with a relatively light edit (each paper only received six hours' worth of editorial attention).
They recommend that granting bodies concerned with improving the quality of scholarship and human knowledge create funds to subsidize scholars who want their prose improved.
All of this sounds right to me, but then, I'm a writer. Putting on my most skeptical hat, I am forced to admit that the study only concerns one discipline (economics) and a relatively small number of papers (30). Maybe these conclusions generalize to other subjects and maybe they'd be robust with a larger sample size – but that's not certain.
More interesting is the unstated corollary: bad scholarship produced by scientists and researchers blessed with good prose may be sneaking through peer-review and into citations. Perhaps there's a "glibness privilege" that bypasses the critical faculties of fellow scholars, and gives foolish and unsupported ideas currency.
Hey look at this (permalink)
- wordle_comcom: solving Wordle with adversarial interoperability https://github.com/Denbox/wordle_comcom
Making Sense of Crypto & Web3 https://web3.lifeitself.us/
This day in history (permalink)
#10yrsago RIAA prez twirls mustache in anticipation of taking on his role of Internet Witchfinder General https://www.cnet.com/culture/riaa-chief-isps-to-start-policing-copyright-by-july-1/
#10yrsago Canadian cops want to add a spying tax to phone bills to pay for warrantless wiretapping https://web.archive.org/web/20121101000000*/https://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6379/125/
#5yrsago How Kenyan spies and cops use electronic surveillance for illegal murder and torture squads https://privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/track_capture_final.pdf
#5yrsago Fair trade ebooks: how authors could double their royalties without costing their publishers a cent https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/73044-london-book-fair-2017-cory-doctorow-unveils-his-latest-publishing-experiment-fair-trade-e-books.html
#1yrago Meet the new music boss, same as the old music boss: Monopsony begets monoposony https://pluralistic.net/2021/03/16/wage-theft/#excessive-buyer-power
#1yrago SMS security is flaming garbage https://pluralistic.net/2021/03/16/wage-theft/#override-service-registry
Today's top sources: Marginal Revolution (https://marginalrevolution.com).
- Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 518 words (73290 words total).
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. Yesterday's progress: 269 words (5938 words total)
A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE
A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED
A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED
Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.
Latest podcast: Vertically Challenged https://craphound.com/news/2022/03/13/vertically-challenged/
- Competition & Regulation in Disrupted Times (Charles River Associates/Brussels), Mar 31
Seize the Means of Computation, Emerging Technologies For the Enterprise, Apr 19-20
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Dangerous Visions: False Dawns and Wandergrounds – Dystopia, Then and Now
Safety Orange (This Week in Tech)
- "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.
- Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022
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